Thursday, April 04, 2013

Precision Dragon Flies . . .


The New York Times has a fascinating piece on dragonflies by Natalie Angier, "Nature's Drone, Pretty and Deadly" (April 1, 2013). Among the various intriguing skills is the dragonfly's incredible flying ability:
Dragonflies are magnificent aerialists, able to hover, dive, fly backward and upside down, pivot 360 degrees with three tiny wing beats, and reach speeds of 30 miles per hour, lightning for an arthropod. In many insects, the wings are simple extensions of the thoracic box and are moved largely as a unit, by flexing the entire thorax. In the dragonfly, the four transparent, ultraflexible wings are attached to the thorax by separate muscles and can each be maneuvered independently, lending the insect an extraordinary range of flight options.
Back in my Ozark childhood, I would watch dragonflies do these very maneuvers, not that I realized at the time that they were sometimes flying upside down, but I did see them dive, hover, and suddenly dart backwards through the air with extraordinary quickness, acceleration, and speed. You can watch some of this, too, for the article has a number of time-lapse images showing their flight ability in slow motion, so take a look. The US military is certainly looking:
Perhaps not surprisingly, much dragonfly research both here and abroad is supported by the United States military, which sees the insect as the archetypal precision drone.
That's not just for its flying, but for its combination of skills, including extraordinary eyesight and a 95 percent kill rate when it takes off after prey!

The future is a different, dangerous country we're headed for . . .

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